Manchester United’s Wayne Rooney sees yellow and puts record chasing on hold

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Wayne Rooney may be having a chequered season, both on the pitch and off it, though he is at that stage in an illustrious career where history beckons at every turn.

Last week against Feyenoord he not only produced one of his most convincing displays of the season but the opening goal he both made and scored confirmed him as Manchester United’s all-time leading scorer in Europe, as well as pushing his club tally to a within a single strike of Bobby Charlton’s record of 249.

With Rooney starting this game as captain on 248 goals an ideal script now suggested itself. A goal against West Ham would equal Charlton’s mark and hopefully propel Manchester United towards the last four of the EFL Cup, leaving the opportunity for the record to be broken on Sunday at Everton, which is where this remarkable story began.

If West Ham had any objections to that scenario they needed to register them early and they failed. Less than two minutes were on the clock when the home side took the lead with a well-worked move that carved the visiting defence wide open. The only slight snag from Manchester United’s point of view was that Rooney had started the attack rather than finished it. Operating in the No10 position behind Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Rooney collected a header from Marcos Rojo following Adrián’s upfield clearance and slipped Henrikh Mkhitaryan through, for the Armenian to find Ibrahimovic with a deft backheel that rendered scoring almost a formality.

That was exactly what José Mourinho would have wanted from Rooney when he selected him as support striker, but making goals for other people was not going to produce the required fanfare. Neither was taking corners or dropping deep to help out the defence, both of which Rooney found himself doing in the first half, although when Pedro Obiang was booked for a clumsy foul on Anthony Martial the would-be history man could not resist a potshot at goal from the free kick. Adrián threw himself to his left to save, though it looked as if the shot was missing anyway.

As is often the case on these occasions there seemed to be some uncertainty over protocol as Manchester United went in search of a second goal. Ibrahimovic looked to be conflicted at least once over whether to go it alone or give it to Rooney, while the latter was unselfishness personified in finding others when close to goal and eschewing the option of going for glory.

West Ham’s first-half equaliser probably did the home side a favour in that respect. Manchester United now needed another goal from somewhere and it no longer mattered who scored it. It turned out to be Martial, which should please Mourinho, and came as early in the second half as the opener had come in the first. It also involved another backheel, this time from Antonio Valencia, and though Rooney was shouting for the ball as the again impressive Mkhitaryan strode into the area, Martial was marginally better placed and his finish left no room for argument.

That still left Rooney in limbo, and a yellow card for protesting the award of a free-kick too vigorously was not the memento of the evening the captain was looking for either, especially as it put him out of the game at Goodison. In fairness, Rooney was playing his non-scoring role very well, and when he slipped Martial into the box just before the hour the winger should really have claimed his second goal and sealed the victory. The home side had to wait only an extra six minutes for that, Martial having no difficulty sweeping in Valencia’s precision cross from the six-yard line, but though the crowd began supportively chanting his name every time the ball came his way Rooney was still going short of opportunities in front of goal.

Worse yet, when a glimpse of one came along from Ibrahimovic’s improvised cross, all Rooney got was an accidental kick in the mouth from Winston Reid for his pains. He had to leave the field for treatment to a cut lip, and though he gamely battled on the closest he came to a goal was a curling shot that did not curl anywhere near enough. And so the show moves on. Just not to Everton, where at least Rooney would have been sure of a reaction if he scored, though perhaps not an enthusiastic one. There might be next to no reaction at all if this bit of Manchester United history ends up being made next Thursday at Zorya Luhansk.

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